June 2021 Bible Questions & Answers

Why did Jesus tell Mary Magdalene not to touch him and later permits Thomas to touch him?

The “touch” in the KJV’s “touch me not” (John 20:17) comes from the Greek term haptomai, which carries with it the idea of not only touching someone, but in certain contexts “clinging” to them.  Thus, the ESV and NASB translate this verse as Jesus saying to Mary, “Do not cling to me” or “Stop clinging to me.” 

Later, when he would greet the other women who had come to the tomb that morning, they would respond by “(taking) hold of his feet” (Matt. 28:9); in other words, they clung to him, likely overcome with joy at seeing him alive again and clinging to his feet in a way that likely showed their desire to not lose him again.  Mary likely responded in the same way.  Thus, Jesus responded by requesting that she not cling to him because “I have not yet ascended to the Father.”  In other words, “Mary, you don’t have to hold on to me as if I’m about to leave you forever.  It’s going to be a few weeks before I ascend into heaven, so you’re going to see me again.”  It’s also possible that he was gently informing her that no amount of clinging to him would prevent him from ascending to his Father in heaven when the time came.

Later, when he showed himself to Thomas (who had previously doubted the other apostles’ story of his resurrection), he invited Thomas to touch the wounds in his hands and sides as a way for him to use his sense of sight and touch to verify that Jesus had in fact come back to life (John 20:24-27).  The indication from verse 27 is that Jesus was inviting Thomas to touch the wounds in his hands and “put out (his) hand, and place it in (Jesus’) side,” something different from the clinging Mary had been doing.  It was a different kind of touching, for different purposes, and done in different contexts.

Luke 12:49-51 is sobering.  Does verse 49 refer to the destruction or fire before judgment?

Jesus said, “I came to cast fire on the earth, and would that it were already kindled!  I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how great is my distress until it is accomplished!  Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth?  No, I tell you, but rather division” (Luke 12:49-51).

Contextually, he was speaking about when he returns (Lk. 12:39-40ff), so it’s understandable at first glance to think that the “fire” of verse 49 refers to either the fires of hell (Rev. 21:8) or the fires that would consume the world and universe on Judgment Day (2 Pet. 3:10ff).  However, if that were the case, why would Jesus wish, even before he had fulfilled his mission to save us from our sins, “that it were already kindled”?  It doesn’t make sense for Jesus to wish that hell or the end of the world had already taken place even before his death and resurrection; that would contradict the clear biblical doctrine of his great love for us and desire for us to be saved.

Thus, “fire” has to have a metaphorical meaning.  This also would fit the context, because his subsequent mention of his upcoming baptism (v. 50) is also clearly metaphorical since John had already literally baptized him.  The baptism which he had yet to be baptized with, the one which gave him great distress until it was accomplished, is clearly a metaphorical reference to his upcoming “baptism” (immersion) of suffering on the cross (cf. Mk. 10:38).  In like manner, the fire he now speaks of is also metaphorical. 

Fire is often used metaphorically in Scripture to refer to a cleansing agent or purifier (cf. Mal. 3:2; Is. 4:4).  Trials of life such as persecution can often be used by God to spiritually cleanse us or purify us (cf. James 1:2-4).  Considering that Jesus immediately speaks metaphorically of his own upcoming trial (v. 50), and then follows it by referring to the trials of division that his followers would endure (vs. 51-53), it’s likely that he was metaphorically referring to the trials that would come upon his disciples, the “fiery consequences” of being a faithful Christian.

Did Satan know that Jesus would rise from the grave?

It is impossible to answer this question with certainty since, as far as I’m aware, there is no passage in Scripture that answers this question definitively (cf. Deut. 29:29).  However, we can glean from several scriptural passages that it was at least a possibility that Satan knew ahead of time that Jesus would rise again.

For one, Christ and the apostles stated that his resurrection was “in accordance with the Scriptures” (Lk. 24:46; John 20:9; Acts 2:25-32; 13:33-35; 26:22-23; 1 Cor. 15:4; cf. Ps. 16:8-11; Is. 53:10).  Satan was familiar with the Scripture (Matt. 4:6), so it is possible that he was aware of these Old Testament prophecies about Christ’s resurrection.  Jesus’ rebuke of Peter, calling him Satan when Peter tried to dissuade him from going to Jerusalem so he could die and be resurrected (Matt. 16:21-23), might indicate that Satan was trying to use Peter to tempt Jesus from going through with his plan to save mankind by dying and coming back to life.

However, it is also possible that, even being aware of the Old Testament prophecies of Jesus’ death and resurrection, he might have misinterpreted them as did many of the Jews (cf. 1 Cor. 2:6-8).  It is possible that by successfully tempting Judas and the scribes and Pharisees to betray and kill Jesus, Satan might have mistakenly thought he had won and thus would have been very much dismayed and surprised on the following Sunday morning when Jesus was resurrected. 

In the end, as far as I’m aware, there’s nothing in Scripture that could point to a definite answer to this question.

Who is my neighbor?

A lawyer, testing Jesus, had asked him about obtaining eternal life.  Jesus referred him to the Old Law, and the lawyer cited the commands to love God with all your being and love your neighbor as yourself.  Jesus acknowledged that he had answered correctly, but the lawyer, “desiring to justify himself,” then asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”  Jesus replied by telling the parable of the good Samaritan, in which a Jewish man was traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho and was robbed and left for dead.  Two of his fellow Jews, both the cultural epitomes of who were considered to be pious and devout, had the opportunity to help him and walked on by.  It was a Samaritan, one of the race of whom the Jews despised, who found the man and went out of his way to help him, even to the point of opening himself up to being defrauded himself.  Jesus got the lawyer to acknowledge that it was the Samaritan who was a neighbor to the Jew who was in need, and then urged him to do likewise (Lk. 10:25-37).

From this we gather that our neighbor is the one who is willing to help us in our time of need, even if he happens to be one whom we do not love and may even despise.  The fact that God wishes us to be like this person shows that true Christian love for others goes beyond loving those who love you back, those who may look like you, and those with whom you have no problem.  Loving your neighbor as yourself requires being a true neighbor to others, i.e., being willing to show Christ-like love, compassion, and aid to anyone who is in need, no matter who they are.

Can a person baptize themselves?

Naaman did because God commanded him to do so in order to be miraculously cured of his leprosy (2 Kings 5:14).  However, he was not commanded in the New Covenant to “be baptized” (Acts 2:38; 22:16) with the promise that his sins would be forgiven and he would be saved as a result.  In the New Testament, the baptism commanded for salvation and forgiveness of sins is spoken of in a passive sense in the Greek.  In other words, the command is that it is something that someone else does to you, not something you do to yourself.  All of the examples of baptism in the New Testament show people being baptized by someone else, not baptizing themselves (cf. Acts 2:41; 8:38; 9:18; 16:15, 33).